Panasonic GF6 Hands-on Preview
by Mike Tomkins
For the fifth straight generation, Panasonic courts consumers and enthusiasts alike with a relatively compact interchangeable-lens mirrorless camera that nonetheless packs in the features.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 has grown ever so slightly since its predecessor, and has gotten rather heavier as well, but that's allowed for more than a few new additions inside its completely redesigned body.
Key among these are new wireless connectivity options and a self-portrait friendly tilting LCD panel. There's also a higher-resolution sensor inherited from the Lumix GX1.
Seen from the front, though, the most significant change is a reprofiled handgrip and an attractive two-tone finish. Overall, the body looks cleaner from this angle, in part because the edge of the popup flash doesn't wrap around to the front of the camera. The GF6's handgrip is both shallower than that from the GF5, and extends further up the front of the body before it tapers away, making the camera easier to hold.
Jumping to the top deck of the Panasonic GF6, the most significant change is the return of the Mode dial, something we've not seen on a Lumix GF-series camera since the original DMC-GF1 back in 2009. There's also a new rocker control around the Shutter button, which controls the optical zoom function of Power Zoom lenses. With a manual zoom or prime mounted, it controls exposure compensation or (in Manual exposure mode) the lens' aperture. In Playback mode it controls the playback zoom strength, and when in the menu system it switches between pages of the menu.
Fitting in these new controls has meant some adjustments to the rest of the Lumix GF6's top-deck layout. The Intelligent Auto button has jumped across to the right-hand side of the Shutter button, and the Movie button is now much closer to the rightmost edge of the body.
Looking at the rear deck of the Panasonic GF6, one change in particular stands out, and it's probably the main contributor to the increase in weight since the GF5. (The new model weighs almost a quarter more, body-only.) The LCD panel is now articulated, tilting upwards a full 180 degrees to allow for viewing from in front of the camera, perfect for shooting self-portraits. It also tilts downwards around 45 degrees. (It will be blocked if the flash is deployed, but you're not likely to want the flash active for an arm's length portrait, and tripod-mounted portraits can be framed before you raise the strobe.)
There's also one new button on the rear deck, located at the very bottom-right corner. This acts both as a secondary Function button in Record mode, and a Wi-Fi button in Playback mode. The Panasonic GF6's Power slider and a button to deploy the popup flash strobe, meanwhile, have both moved further up the camera's rear, and now reside on a bevel between the top and rear decks. Finally, Panasonic has also reprofiled the thumb grip, which still ramps outwards as it approaches the right-hand edge of the camera, but no longer does so towards the top deck.
Panasonic GF6 Technical Info
by Mike Tomkins
Sensor. The Live MOS sensor at the core of the Lumix GF6, says Panasonic, is the same as that seen previously in the enthusiast-oriented Lumix GX1 and G3. It offers an effective resolution of 16 megapixels from a total count of 16.68 megapixels, and has an analog interface. By way of comparison, the GF5 had a 12.1 megapixel sensor. While the sensor itself might not be new, improvements in image processing -- and a reduction in the level of sharpening applied to its output -- are said to yield better image quality than did the GX1.
Processor. Those improvements come courtesy of a newly-developed Venus Engine image processor, which includes Panasonic's Multi-Process Noise Reduction technology. This two-pass process adjusts the noise reduction strength depending on the brightness of specific image areas. There's also an Intelligent D-Range Control that attempts to coax detail out of highlight and shadow areas, and a new technology Panasonic has dubbed the Detail Reproduction Filter Process that aims to improve resolution.
ISO. The Panasonic GF6 has a default sensitivity range spanning everything from ISO 160 to 12,800 equivalents, with everything up to ISO 3,200 equivalent available to the Auto ISO function. Should you wish, you can extend the upper limit for manual control to a maximum of ISO 25,600 equivalent.
Performance. Burst shooting with autofocus enabled is manufacturer-rated at around 3.7 frames per second. Although a slight step backwards from the 4.0 fps of the GF5, its perhaps not surprising given the 1/3 increase in pixel count. If you're willing to rely on manual focus, the Panasonic GF6 will allow a maximum burst rate of 4.2 frames per second. Startup time is manufacturer-rated at 0.5 seconds, which would be a significant step forward from the 1.4 seconds we measured for the GF5. (Note that we've not yet had a chance to verify this in our lab, however.)
Lens mount. As you'd expect, the Panasonic GF6 sports a Micro Four Thirds lens mount compatible with a wide range of glass from Panasonic, its Micro Four Thirds partners, and from other mounts via a healthy selection of lens adapters.
There's one noteworthy change, though. Where the GF5 shipped with either the older Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph. Mega O.I.S. or the retractable G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph. Power O.I.S. power zoom lens, GF6 kits will come bundled with the newer, more compact Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II Asph. Mega O.I.S., or the power zoom lens. The Lumix G X power zoom lens will also be offered in a new color -- white -- to match one of the GF6 body colors.
Autofocus. Like most mirrorless cameras, the Panasonic GF6 uses contrast detection to determine the point of focus. As with that in its predecessor, the GF6's autofocus system is branded as Light Speed AF, and includes both full-time autofocus and tracking functions, even during video capture. Panasonic says that it now has improved low-light focusing performance, however. The company claims its new model is capable of focusing more quickly and precisely under difficult conditions such as a scene lit solely by moonlight. As in the earlier camera, it's possible to determine the point of focus with a simple tap on the camera's rear-panel touch screen display.
LCD. While the display itself has not changed in size -- it's still based around a 3.0-inch panel -- it has otherwise improved in a number of ways. Resolution has increased to 720 x 480 pixels (or 1,040,000 dots, with each pixel made up of separate red, green, and blue dots.) The display still has a 100% field of view, but Panasonic says that it has also expanded the display's gamut by around 20%, and reduced power consumption by 25%. Viewing angles are also improved, and glare has been reduced.
Touch panel. In large part, these improvements come thanks to a switch to a gapless, in-cell capacitive touch design. This incorporates the necessary hardware to detect touch into the LCD itself, negating the need for a separate touch-detecting layer in the design. By removing this separate layer, the thickness of the overall display is decreased, and more importantly, so is the number of interfaces between variant materials, reducing the opportunity for internal reflections and light scatter.
The result is a display that, while it retains the touch sensitivity of its predecessor, is much easier on the eye. In fact, the improvement in viewing angle is such that we double-checked with Panasonic whether, perhaps, they'd switched to an Organic LED panel. Suffice it to say that this is one very sharp, absolutely gorgeous display -- which is great news in a camera that offers no alternative method of framing or reviewing your images.
Articulation. And the good news doesn't end there, either. The LCD panel is also newly mounted on a tilting mechanism that can be raised 180 degrees, allowing viewing from in front of the camera. It also tilts downwards around 45 degrees. While it will be blocked by the popup flash when raised, it's still a big step forwards for fans of self-portraits.
Flash. Speaking of the popup flash strobe, that is essentially unchanged. It still sits at the center of the top deck, raised with a button at top left of the Panasonic GF6's rear surface. It also still has a guide number of five meters at ISO 100, although that's below the Lumix GF6's base sensitivity of ISO 160 equivalent. A little quick math tells you that at the GF6's base ISO, the guide number works out to be 6.3 meters.
Exposure. As we mentioned earlier, the Panasonic GF6 returns marks the return of the humble, yet oh-so-useful physical Mode dial. On its top surface are clearly marked the GF6's various operating modes: Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, Manual, Movie, Custom 1, Custom 2, Creative Panorama, Scene, and Creative Control. Panasonic's Intelligent Auto and Intelligent Auto Plus modes are still available, accessed via the top-deck iA button.
For Scene-mode shooting, a Scene Guide shows an example shot for each scene type, and provides basic information on how to obtain pleasing results in each mode, as well as recommended lens options. In all, the selection of 23 Scene modes include Clear Portrait, Silky Skin, Backlit Softness, Clear in Backlight, Relaxing Tone, Sweet Child's Face, Distinct Scenery, Bright Blue Sky, Romantic Sunset Glow, Vivid Sunset Glow, Glistening Water, Clear Nightscape, Cool Night Sky, Warm Glowing Nightscape, Artistic Nightscape, Glittering Illuminations, Clear Night Portrait, Soft Image of a Flower, Appetizing Food, Cute Dessert, Freeze Animal Motion, Clear Sports Shot, and Monochrome. Of these, all but three -- Glistening Water, Glittering Illuminations, and Soft Image of a Flower -- are also available during Movie capture.
We'll come back to the Creative modes in a moment. Finally, the Intelligent Auto modes remove all the complexity from shooting, automatically controlling features like shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity, autofocus and tracking, Intelligent Dynamic-range Control, and Scene-mode selection as appropriate. Interestingly, Panasonic says that the Intelligent Scene Selector can now recognize plated food and adjust settings appropriately for an appetizing result. The iA Plus mode provides a small modicum of user control such as background defocus, white balance, and exposure compensation.
Metering. Exposures are metered using a 1,728-segment, multi-pattern metering system which derives information from the main image sensor. Metering modes include Intelligent Multiple, Center-weighted, and Spot, and you can also touch a subject on the screen to select your metering point. Autoexposure lock and three or five-stop bracketing functions are available, with the latter operating in 1/3 or 2/3 EV steps. Exposure compensation is available in a +/- 3 EV range, with a step size of 1/3 EV.
Shutter. The Panasonic GF6 has a focal-plane shutter which provides a working range from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds. Flash sync is at 1/160 second or slower. Movie shutter speeds range from 1/16,000 second to the movie frame rate -- either 1/30 or 1/25 second.
Creative. A total of 19 Creative Control modes are available in the Panasonic GF6. These include Expressive, Retro, Old Days, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Toy Pop, Bleach Bypass, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Fantasy, Star Filter, One Point Color, and Sunshine, and again, only three of these options aren't available for movie capture. Apart from the Soft Focus, Star Filter, and Sunshine filters, everything else can be used for movies as well, but the Miniature Effect function records without audio, and plays back at approximately 10x real-time speed.
The Lumix GF6's Creative Panorama function, meanwhile, is different from most rivals in that it couples in-camera panorama capture and stitching with the Creative Control modes to provide unusually-filtered panoramas. Panasonic says that a total of 15 different filter effects can be applied to cameras, but we don't yet know which these will include.
A stop-motion animation mode lets you record frames one at a time, and have the result combined in-camera to create a single video file which plays back at accelerated speed. (We don't yet know what frame rate these stop-motion movies will have, however.) And Panasonic has included an unusual function dubbed Clear Retouch that lets you indicate a subject by tracing it on the LCD panel, then have it automatically erased from the image. There's also a self-shot function that aims to make it simple to get a self-portrait using the new tilting LCD monitor.
Movie. Like its predecessor, the Panasonic Lumix GF6 still offers Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels; 1080i) AVCHD movie capture, and also retains a progressive-scan 720p (1,280 x 720 pixels) AVCHD option. In both cases, the record rate is 60fps for NTSC or 50fps for PAL, but it's derived from 30fps sensor data, due to the analog output of the sensor. And much like the earlier camera, the GF6 also offers an MP4 mode, available at a progressive-scan 30fps (for NTSC; PAL is 25 fps) in 1080p, 720p, or 480p (aka VGA). AVCHD video is limited to a maximum clip length of under 30 minutes, while MPEG-4 video stops short of 30 minutes or four gigabytes of data, whichever is reached first.
As noted previously, the Panasonic GF6 allows for full-time tracking AF and a variety of scene and creative control modes during video capture. It also allows Program, Aperture- and Shutter-priority, or fully Manual exposure. There's a dedicated Movie button on the top deck, used to start and stop capture.
Microphone. Just as in the GF5, the Lumix GF6 captures stereo audio via a pair of single-hole microphone ports on its top deck.
Connectivity. There's a big difference in the two cameras' connectivity options, however. The Panasonic DMC-GF6 supplements the earlier model's USB 2.0 High Speed, high-definition Type-C Mini HDMI, and standard-definition monaural audio/video (NTSC-only in the US; NTSC/PAL elsewhere) outputs with built-in wireless data connectivity. And it's not just the relatively commonplace Wi-Fi, either. The Panasonic GF6 sports both 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi and near-field communication support.
We're all familiar with Wi-Fi these days, but NFC is relatively new to most consumers, although adoption is really starting to take off of late. The tech allows transfer over very short distances -- up to eight inches depending upon signal strength, although in practice it's typically in the region of an inch or less -- and at relatively low speed.
This might not sound terribly conducive to photo sharing, but here's where it gets clever. The NFC connectivity isn't used for sharing photos directly; instead the camera and remote device (be it a smartphone, tablet, or other NFC-compliant device with Wi-Fi connectivity) communicate via NFC for long enough only to automatically set up a Wi-Fi connection, with the minimum of user intervention. Data is then transferred via the much faster Wi-Fi connection. In essence, you get the best of both worlds -- the ease of NFC, which uses its short range as a security boon, coupled with the speed of Wi-Fi.
Panasonic supplies a free application -- Panasonic Image App -- for both Apple iOS and Google Android devices to facilitate this quick setup, so you'll still need to install this app, but once you've done so data transfer should be pretty painless. Images can then be transferred automatically as soon as the shutter is released, or on demand from the camera in Playback mode. The app also allows a remote live view feed at 30 frames per second, and with remote control of shutter, zoom (for power zoom lenses), focus, and various exposure variables. And it also allows for geotagging of images using data from the attached device's GPS receiver, although this does increase battery drain on your phone or tablet, and requires some forethought to ensure that GPS is enabled and has a lock on the remote device before you start shooting.
As well as connecting to your Android or iOS device, the DMC-GF6 can also connect to a wireless router to sync images with your home PC, and can transfer images via Panasonic's Lumix Club cloud service to third-party sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Twitter, and YouTube. And if you own a DLNA-compliant Viera TV, you can also transfer images for review on the TV screen via Wi-Fi Direct.
Storage. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF6 stores images and movies on Secure Digital cards, and is compatible with both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types, as well as the higher-speed UHS-I types. Images can be saved in JPEG or raw formats, or in MPO format when shooting with Panasonic's 3D lens. Movies are saved in AVCHD or MP4 formats.
Battery. Power comes courtesy of a proprietary 7.2V, 1,025mAh DMW-BLG10 Lithium Ion battery pack, rather than the DMW-BLE9 pack used by the GF5.
The Panasonic GF6's battery life is rated at 330 shots on a charge with the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph. Power O.I.S. lens, unchanged from that of the GF5, or 340 shots with the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II Asph. Mega O.I.S. lens.
Pricing and availability. The Panasonic GF6 with 14-42mm II kit lens ships from June 2013 for a suggested list price of US$599.99. Body colors may vary by market, but will include black, white, brown, and red.